• Watchdog submits sealed one-page report to Supreme Court; perused by judges in chambers
• Commission says Punjab has agreed to sanction 75,000 security personnel against demand for 300,000

ISLAMABAD: With the federal government looking to sidestep a Supreme Court order directing elections to be held in Punjab on May 14, a report submitted by the Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) to the apex court regarding the release of Rs21 billion for election expenses has also made much of the government’s reluctance to release the required funds.

In its April 4 verdict, the election watchdog was directed by the top court to keep the court in the loop regarding funding for polls and submit a report on the government’s response regarding the request for funds. If the funds are not provided or there is a shortfall, as the case may be, the Supreme Court may issue orders or give directions to appropriate authorities, the SC ruling had stated.

On Tuesday, the report was submitted by the ECP in a sealed envelope, a day after Finance Minister Ishaq Dar tabled a money bill in the National Assembly and Senate. The bill, which has been dubbed as an attempt to delay the polls, seeks parliamentary approval for the release of Rs21 billion to conduct polls in line with the SC order.

Though the contents of the report are not known, a source privy to the information told Dawn that the one-page report informed the apex court about the government’s reluctance to issue the Rs21 billion needed for the purpose.

As per the directions in the judgement issued last week, the ECP report will be placed before members of a three-judge bench for consideration in chambers, within a day or two.

The report also states that the caretaker government of Punjab had informed the election watchdog that due to resource constraints, the government could only sanction 75,000 security personnel against the demand for 300,000 security forces.

It may be mentioned that the judgement had ordered the Punjab caretaker cabinet and in particular, the chief secretary and the police chief, to provide a plan acceptable to the ECP for providing sufficient personnel for election duty and security purposes.

In case, the Punjab government and its officials must, in the discharge of constitutional and legal duties and responsibilities, proactively provide all aid and assistance to the commission for the holding and conduct of the general election, as per the judgement.

As far as polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are concerned, a petition filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was returned by the registrar on April 10 on the account of “illegible pages”, “overwriting and cutting”, and that respondents cited in the plea were not “properly informed” about the purpose of the petition.

Simultaneous polls

The federal government’s hesitation in issuing funds is being interpreted as an apparent attempt to delay elections, at least until October, which is evidenced by the tabling of the money bill in parliament on Monday.

The bill was introduced after it was decided in two cabinet meetings to oppose elections and involve parliament to seek approval for the funds required to conduct elections.

Interestingly, the bill was also tabled in the Senate, even though the upper house of parliament has no role in the passage of the money bill and can only give recommendations that are also not binding upon the NA. The Senate chairman, who also did not appear to be in a hurry, also asked members to take time till Friday to come up with their recommendations.

On the other hand, a number of resolutions have been passed by lawmakers seeking simultaneous elections instead of split polls after the dissolution of KP and Punjab assemblies, as envisaged by the top court in its recent judgement.

On Monday, the Senate passed a resolution endorsing joint elections whereas the KP caretaker cabinet also put its weight behind general elections across the country on the same day.

Moreover, a resolution passed by the Balochistan Assembly cited the economic crisis and the on-going census exercise as it advocated a delay in elections.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2023

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